JEDDAH: For the first time ever in Saudi Arabia, WNBA and Jeddah United Sports Co. conducted two basketball clinics for coaches and players as part of the Sports United Friendship Basketball Program. Forty five players from various teams and 25 coaches of different organizations signed up for the quality training that was run by ex-WNBA players Lynette Woodard and Ruthie Bolton.
Jeddah United and Friends of Jeddah Parks partnership made the clinic a reality. The initial idea was to train players, but the coaches clinic was added to the program in an attempt to reach out to more generations of players.
Woodard was the four-time All-American who played for the US women’s Olympic basketball team twice and captain of the 1984 team that won the gold medal in Los Angeles. In 1985 she was the first female member of the Harlem Globetrotters. She played internationally for several years in Italy and Japan. In 1997 Woodard was signed by the Cleveland Rockers in the opening year of the WNBA. She also played for the Detroit Shock before retiring from the WNBA in 1999.
Bolton guided the University of Auburn in four NCAA tournaments. She went on to play internationally in Hungary, Sweden, Turkey and Italy and played on many US Olympic and national teams. She won gold medals with the USA at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics and at the 1998 World Basketball Championships. She played for the Sacramento Monarchs in the WNBA from its start in 1997 until she retired in 2005.
The three-day clinic was filled with excitement and enthusiasm. The clinics were both motivational and educational. “It is because of each and everyone of your dreams that we are here today. Always remember to follow your dreams,” said Woodard. She spoke about her personal experiences and the development of sports in the US, and how, as growing up, there was discrimination against women sports. “It wasn’t until the 70’s that women got their equal rights in the US. I was once like you are today.”
Coaches had a Q and A session, and asking various questions in coaching, refereeing clarifications. Coaches came from various organizations, schools, universities, welfare societies and private teams.
The WNBA players emphasized on fitness and stamina. They explained and demonstrated basic drills, basic strategies and plays. They set about scrimmage games between the participants and evaluated the level of basketball. They expected the level of basketball to be lower that what they witnessed considering that women sports in Saudi Arabia is still underdeveloped.
After a three-day crash course in professional basketball, the two retired WNBA players gave out the certificates to the participants in the closing ceremony. Woodard emphasized that dreams can come true if you believe. She said “dream high, dream big, and unless your neighbor thinks it’s a crazy idea and will never happen, that’s when you’ll know it’s a big dream.”
Another inspiring part of the closing ceremony was when Bolton sang with her powerful voice in the indoor court the Joe Cocker hit song “You Are So Beautiful” and dedicated it to the participants. There was a moment of silence and then the cheering and applauding of the participants echoed on the basketball court. Bolton emphasized inner beauty and to never give up. Another special person who spoke in the closing ceremony was Zakyah Bondogjij, the vice chairman of Friends of Jeddah Parks, who brought her lovely granddaughter Mariam with her to the court as a symbol of hope to the future generations.